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Cloud-based ERP, wearables: Thoughts on Dreamforce 2014

The CEO of FinancialForce.com discusses how Salesforce has boosted the future for cloud-based ERP and hopes for new wearables at Dreamforce 2014.

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The death of ERP has been much debated. But has the cloud, which some predicted would speed its demise, given it a new lease on life?

In 2012, Tien Tzuo, the founder of Zuora Inc., wrote in Forbes, "ERP's days are numbered because of a fundamental shift ... driven by the massive growth of the cloud itself." Tzuo said that installed, onetime software purchases were being eclipsed by subscriptions and ongoing relationships, and that tide would take ERP with it.

But ERP companies are adjusting to a cloud-based universe. Tzuo predicted that the cloud model would undercut the traditional approach of installed, on-premises ERP. Still, companies like FinancialForce.com, a Salesforce.com customer and partner, have adopted a cloud-only model and built their application on top of the Salesforce.com platform. But does cloud-based ERP have a place, amid other back-office applications like CRM, HR, financials and ERP?

SearchCRM caught up with Jeremy Roche, CEO and founder of FinancialForce.com, to discuss how cloud-based ERP is hardly dead and his hopes for new wearable technology at Dreamforce 2014.

Tell me about your business.

Jeremy Roche: We built our apps on Salesforce's platform for activities that handle the back office, whereas Salesforce handles the front office. We can build apps for the back office that are truly focused on customers.

Jeremy RocheJeremy Roche

So, with [FinancialForce on top of Salesforce],I can see what I have sold to customers, what I am selling to them, our invoicing status with them, our outstanding balance, our debt collections. And also, things like managing goods and services, [and] how our customers are selling to their customers.

I can see that all in one place, with one view of the customer. We've talked about this for years, but the Salesforce technology has actually enabled us to do this.

Do you worry that platforms like Salesforce could subsume ERP as a relevant application?

Roche: A lot of that functionality is quite complicated to build. What we build is a single, unified ledger: debits and credits related to a customer, summing to zero, all the time -- always in balance. It handles accounting in multicurrency, multi-company perspective. Those are all features over and above Salesforce.

Since you're in the cloud only, do customers ever ask for an on-premises option?

Roche: Go back two or three years, and they might have done. But customers that are still on-premises probably don't talk to us. That's the hard core that will never move or move only when they get a new CIO who says, "Why are we doing it this way?" I struggle to remember the last time in a sales situation we had to answer the question, "Why cloud?" It's become the de facto.

How does your model expedite business?

Roche: Historically, people are siloed in the jobs they do. We have tried to break those silos down with Chatter [the social CRM feature in Salesforce]. If I'm a support person, when I’m taking a call from a customer, and I have the customer’s record up, I can also see that the customer is overdue on payments. As a support person, I can be involved in the collections process and say to the customer, "You need to be aware that your account is on hold." Instead of the collections process falling to accounts payable, the whole business can help.

It’s early days yet, but you’ve got to believe that [wearable] technology is possible.
Jeremy RocheCEO, FinancialForce.com

Traditionally, support people would pull up an email and send a message to accounts payable [about customer account issues]. But then, that corporate knowledge was locked in an email between a couple of people. In my example, anyone who looks at the record can see the Chatter exchange and the support person’s note, "I’ve talked to the customer about the outstanding balance. Can you please contact them?"  It creates greater transparency about the issue.

What is on your Dreamforce wish list?

Roche: I am hoping to see more on wearable technology. We have our own products --watches, glasses. We are experimenting with how can we take that and make it part of the ERP experience. It's early days yet, but you've got to believe that this sort of technology is possible.

We've been experimenting with early versions of authorizations -- authorizing consultant resources, for example, where a request comes through as an alert on a watch that says, "My consultant is sick, can you authorize someone else to step in?"

Another use is location-based sales [where the device gathers information about a customer based on location]. If I'm going to see a customer and they're overdue, I’ll get a notification that the customer is overdue on his account. You don't want to spend your whole life selling to a customer that’s never paid you. So an alert would notify you in your watch on your wrist.

I'm not sure how we translate that into mainstream yet. It will be mainstream, though, so if we don’t think about it now, the B2B world will be behind. People expect that the technology that they use in their personal lives will work in their work lives. We're trying to think broadly about this. Dreamforce helps provide a framework for that.

For more on the Salesforce conference, check out our DF14 guide here. Share or retweet this story at #DF14.

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